From page one, Money Shot by Christa Faust is a provocative read. The main character, Angel Dare, is a semi-retired porn star who runs a talent/modeling agency providing new young women to a grinding machine that eats them for lunch if they’re not careful. Angel is a sympathetic character, though, because she takes personal interest in her clients and tries to guide their rough careers through smoother waters, hopefully avoiding harsh treatment and the drug lifestyle that many fall into.
However, Hard Case Crime promotes its line of noir novels as action-filled reads pumping adrenaline and surprising twists, not deep psychology novels. Most of the stories revolve around money, sex, and power. Faust delivers all those things – in spades. From her opening scenario of Angel Dare deciding to do one last porn scene (after getting promised the cover, which is apparently a huge deal in that business), I got the feeling of the old noir standby of a thief taking on one last heist when I knew he shouldn’t. Male noir gets a lot of mileage out of that kind of story, and Faust expertly hits the same kind of familiar groove. Then she stands the old conceit on its ear.
Faust quickly jumps the tracks with this one because she’s a woman and writes with a woman’s sensibilities. Faust’s first-person narrative pulls no punches, delivering body-shots and upper cuts with vicious enthusiasm. I have to admit that I cringed during some of the violence, particularly at that directed at a woman, but the author pulls it off brilliantly. I know that some rape victims fall apart, but not all of them do. Angel Dare doesn’t.
After escaping certain death and using her own unleashed rage, Angel takes up the vengeance trail. As is often the case in a noir novel, she doesn’t know why she was set up or why someone tried to kill her. But she’s determined to get the answers. One of the things I found most appealing about Angel was the fact that she wasn’t trained in violence in any way. No gun expert, no closet martial artist. She was just a highly motivated woman with no other avenue open to her.
I loved Faust’s insight into the porn industry and why Angel couldn’t go to the police. People sometimes forget that rape is still rape even for porn stars, and they don’t necessarily deal with it any better than anyone else. (As Faust points out, a sad fact is that many porn starlets get into the sex industry to escape abusive relationships at home.) Angel can’t go to the police, and she isn’t going to let whoever gave the orders to kill her get away with it.
The trail gets twisted really quickly, and Angel realizes that she isn’t the ultimate target. Other lives are on the line. That motivates her even more to pick up her pistol and search through the mean streets of LA where the porn industry rules.
Angel’s world resonates with hard-hitting violence and drips with sordid sex. Faust doesn’t make the porn world pretty, but she seems to play fairly with all those involved. She includes a lot of facts about that field that most readers will at least find interesting.
But it’s the trail of vengeance that Angel charts that’s most interesting. I enjoyed her tough “guy” dialogues and retorts that centered around her gender. Some of them jarred a little at first, then I realized that was how a woman in her business would speak. The dialogue is honest and forthright, and surprisingly revealing.
Her “partnership” with tough guy Malloy is interesting and appealing. But the noir roots quickly show through when we discover money waits at the finish line for whoever’s still standing to claim it.
Money Shot is one of the best books I’ve read in the Hard Case Line, and I was disappointed to see that Christa Faust hasn’t written a lot more books. She scribes like a pro and I’d be happy to see more novels from her in the future.